While the senior team have stumbled to another Ashes loss, the Aussie A team are playing a tri-series with India A and South Africa A in India. The Aussies are unbeaten in their four round robin games, having beaten India 1-0 in a two-Test series.
It’s easy to dismiss the A teams as a mixture of hasbeens and couldabeens, but it’s much more that that. The A Team is a stepping stone from domestic to international cricket.
In the current A squad, twelve players have represented Australia in Tests, ODIs or T20s. Age-wise, the team is fairly mature, with most players in their mid-to-late twenties and most have extensive domestic cricket.
With the Australian team in rebuilding mode, good performances for the A Team could lead to higher honours.
Take Ashton Agar. Two years ago he a stunning Test debut at Trent Bridge, but was gone after the second Test at Lord’s. Rather than fade into domestic cricket and become pub trivia fodder, he’s worked his way back via the A team and will play for the Australia limited-overs team in England. Ok, he probably won’t challenge Nathan Lyon for a while (he is only 21), but he’s making a strong case for second-in-line.
We all remember the 1994/95 World Series Cricket tournament, when Australia A played against Australia, England and Zimbabwe. At the time Australia were pummeling England in the Ashes and Zimbabwe were still honest but outclassed. Australia A’s inclusion saved the WSC from mediocrity. The “derby” matches were bizarre, with the underdog-loving crowd cheering for the A Team, which didn’t please Mark Taylor.
The 1994/95 A team featured Greg Blewett, Matt Hayden, Damien Martyn, Michael Bevan, Justin Langer, Ricky Ponting, Phil Emery, Gavin Roberston, Greg Rowell and Peter McIntyre. Like the current A team in India, this side had been around the scene for a while, with the majority having already played for Australia (or would in the near future).
In the NRL, there’s concerns that the gap between the National Youth Comp and first grade is too big. NRL clubs have to become feeder teams in the NSW and QLD Cups to foster the next level of players. Same with rugby union, where there’s a large gap between Super Rugby and club rugby. The rebirth of the Australian Rugby Championship has helped somewhat, but it lacks the profile of the NZ and South African domestic competitions.
Comparatively, the A Team tours are a big tick for Cricket Australia. The current Australia A team could play against international opposition and be competitive, such is their collective experience. Meanwhile they’re playing meaningful cricket against strong opposition, rather than the occasional meaningless match against a touring team in first gear. It’s a good sign for the future.